Discovering the Joy of Maple Sugaring at Home

Most people don’t realize that the Sugar Maple is not the only tree that yields syrup. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first experience maple sugaring when the kids were toddlers. Now that we have returned to Oregon, we are delighted to revisit our sugaring experience with Tap My Trees.bigleafmaple

We received a Tap My Trees starter kit in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

There are 13 species of maple trees that grow in the United States. The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharin), one of America’s best-loved trees, is the most well known due to its historical and economical importance.In Oregon, Sugar Maple is an ornamental and found only on college campuses and occasionally in someone’s yard. Oregon’s most prevalent native maples are Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Learn more about Our Native Maples in my earlier post. 

bigleafOur Maple Sugaring Experience

I shared a more in-depth look at Science of Sugaring a few months ago. From everything we have read and from our past experiences, we knew that sap would immediately start to flow after tapping the tree if the weather conditions were just right. Cold nights and warm days were what we needed.

We waited. We watched the forecast. Then my dad telephoned, “This week looks to be a good time to go sugaring?!” Yippee! We gathered our gear and piled into his truck.

Oregon Geography

The Oregon Coast is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Mountain Range on the east. It is 30 to 60 miles (48 to 97 km) wide and averages around 1,500 feet (460 m) in elevation above sea level. Temperate rain forests with high peaks and steep ridges dominate this region.elliotstateforest

In the southernmost section of the Coast Range where we live, you can find the Elliott State Forest. The forest is home to over 50 mammal species, over 100 species of birds, and nearly 30 reptile or amphibian species that spend significant portions of their life cycle in the mountains. It is here that the Big Leaf and Vine Maples grow.

Tapping the Trees

It took about an hour to drive up to the forest and locate the Big Leaf Maples. We found a several in the mid elevations on relatively dry slopes. As the terrain is so steep, most were out of our reach but we did manage to find a couple near the road. Sadly, when we tapped them, the sap was not running. Dad said this was an ominous sign but we hung our bucket anyway and gave it a go.

rainforestWe then drove to a lower elevation in a narrow, moist valley where we located a grove of Vine Maple. You can see in the photo above the abundance of ferns and bryophytes in the understory. When we tapped the Vine Maple, the sap started flowing immediately.

Maple sap is a clear fluid and resembles water. The collection amount may vary. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets may overflow if not emptied.

We thereby hung several bottles amongst the vine maple shrubs that covered the hillside. For these smaller trees, we recycled a plastic soda bottle by poking a hole in the side and sliding the bottle onto the spile.

vinemaple

Collecting the Sap

We returned a few days later to retrieve our materials and any sap we collected. Much to our chagrin, the bucket on the Big Leaf was dry. It was just the wrong time. We’ve wanted to try again but the weather hasn’t been very cooperative this year. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter and lots of rain.

The vine maples, however, were more cooperative. We collected about a quart of sap which when processed yielded only about 2 tablespoons of syrup. Enough for one pancake serving anyway. We all agreed it was very similar to the pure syrup we purchase, but with a little more tangy taste.

It is clearly much more work and effort to tap trees in Oregon, thus making the endeavor economically disadvantageous. This is due in part to the difficulty in reaching the trees but also that a larger quantity of big leaf or vine maple sap is needed to produce equivalent volumes of syrup than the sugar maple.

However, I highly recommend the sugaring experience to families, especially if you have access to maple trees where you live. It is great opportunity to get outdoors and bond together over shared memories – not to mention all that one can learn through the process.

While 2016 wasn’t a good year for tapping the Big Leaf Maple in Oregon, we’ll be sure to try again next year. Sugaring has become a lifelong hobby everyone in our family enjoys.

Maple Sugaring with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is the #1 provider of sugaring supplies for the hobbyist. Devoted to educating families about the practice of maple sugaring Tap My Trees has made donations of supplies to nature centers hosting maple sugar events and they’ve made quite a few products available for teaching Maple Sugaring at Home.

They offer 4 starter kits with the highest quality supplies to tap maple trees at home. You can also customize your kits by ordering sugaring accessories individually. The instructive guidebook outlines the steps to making the maple sugar and contains all the information you need for a successful sugaring from identifying the appropriate tree to how weather affects the sap run, when to collect, and how to boil down the sap.

The lesson plans also include a timeline beginning in the winter and go month by month listing the topics for each month leading to the sap collection and syrup making. Sugaring is a fabulous unit study covering botany, ecology, meteorology, physics, and even history!

Connect with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is committed to sugaring education and they provide recipes and other information on social media. Their products are also available on Amazon, if you prefer. Be inspired!

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The Science of Sugaring with Tap My Trees

When we first started homeschooling, we did a lot of unit studies. Often, our studies revolved around a book I was reading aloud to the kids.

One of our fondest memories of homeschooling revolves around Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We had recently read about the Ingalls’ family sugaring time and a few days later, while enjoying pancakes with real maple syrup, Geneva inquired, “How do you make maple syrup again, Mom?”

I have long been intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. I quickly took her question to heart and we launched into an integrated unit on maple sugaring.

Read more of our early experiences here, Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

While Oregon does not typically come to mind when one thinks of maple sugar, I can attest that we do in fact have maple trees. Come along with me as I share the science of sugaring.

reading up on sugaring In preparation for this post, I received a maple sugaring starter kit for free and was compensated for my time in writing it. All the opinions below are mine and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Science of Sugaring

Products derived from Sugar Maple trees are common in house holds throughout the country, particularly the maple syrup and sugar industry in the Northeast. The earliest written accounts of maple sugaring were made in the early 1600s by European explorers who observed American Indians gathering maple sap.

I love real maple syrup. Growing up, even when times were tight, my dad always insisted we had real maple syrup. When I was in middle school, my dad became intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. “Couldn’t you also tap other trees?” he would ask. “We have a lot of Big Leaf Maple? Can you make Alder syrup? What would it taste like? What about Willow and Oak? Certainly their sap would be sweet as well.”

The next thing I knew, my dad had ordered a spiles kit and we were hiking into Oregon’s coast range to tap trees. After numerous attempts and modifications to his collecting devices, we were successful.

We managed to collect enough sap from several trees to process into syrup – essentially the sap is filtered and the excess water is boiled from the sap. You would be surprised just how much maple sap is required to make just one quart of syrup … 10 gallons (though this varies by species)!

Our research revealed the most commonly tapped maple trees are Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples. My father’s inquiry experiments proved that while other trees can be tapped to collect sap, including Birch, Walnut, and other maple species like Big Leaf and Boxelder; tapping a Sugar or Black Maple yields the best results.

Tap My Trees

Today, Sugar Maple stands and roadside trees provide private landowners with an annual cash crop as well as a rewarding hobby. I am excited to discover and share with you the #1 supplier of maple sugaring supplies for the hobbyist, Tap My Trees. They are the leading site for home based maple sugaring – the process of sap collection and making maple syrup.

Collecting maple sap is a green, environmentally sustainable process that can be enjoyed by anyone with a healthy, mature maple tree. The Tap My Trees website provides you with step-by-step instructions on how to tap your maple trees and turn that sap into maple syrup.

The process is actually quite simple. It does, however, take some time and a willingness to get outdoors and experience this miracle of nature – Charlotte Mason would be so proud!

sugaringkitThe Tap My Trees kit is a wonderful way to jump into the sugaring hobby. Here’s a peak of what is included in the kit:

  • Maple Sugaring Lesson Plan: Lesson plan for the maple sugaring process. Can be adapted for third grade through high school.
  • Maple Sugaring at Home book: This guide provides step-by-step instructions (complete with pictures) to tap maple trees. Includes information on how to identify maple trees, how to tap trees, collection and storage of sap, uses for maple sap including how to make maple syrup, and frequently asked questions.
  • 1 Aluminum Bucket: 2 gallon aluminum bucket is used to collect the sap as it drips from the spile.
  • 1 Metal Lid: Lids prevent rain, snow, and foreign material from entering the bucket.
  • 1 Spile with Hook: Stainless steel spile (tap) is inserted into drilled hole to transfer sap into the bucket. Hook is used to hold the bucket.
  • 1 Drill Bit: 7/16 drill bit with 3/8 shank used to drill tap hole into your maple tree.
  • Cheesecloth: Used to filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.
  • Filter: 24″ X 30″ filter sheet to filter sediment from finished syrup. Durapure grade filter.
  • 1 Bottle with Lid: Empty 12 oz. maple syrup bottle used to store finished syrup.
  • Thermometer: Candy thermometer for making maple syrup. Instrument Range: 100 to 400°F / 40 to 200°C. Stainless steel housing with mounting clip

Join me next month for a maple trees nature study post and again this spring as I share with you our own experiences in tapping trees.